Chapter One Hundred and Fifteen
Atlas, by rhetoric
Word count: 1,309
The pain had become nothing more than background noise – just another few irritations in the desert plain that had become her body. She was almost certain she would crumble into ash; that she was about to experience the slow rot of her muscles and organs as they dried out. It didn’t matter anymore, she reminded herself; the worst was over. She was on her way out, that was what counted – what happened between that moment and her last breath was irrelevant. She could see the reaper in the distant fog, creeping closer every time she shut her eyes.
Startled by a door closing, she snapped her eyes open and rolled her head on the cement floor until she caught sight of a lanky man with the strangest burgundy eyes she had ever seen. He peered at her upside down, his smile odd and his eyes roaming over her in a peculiar way.
“They didn’t tell me you were so lovely,” he said, and Atlas grew dizzy watching him circle around her. She was bound to the floor, metal clamps around her wrists, her arms stretched outward on each side, and a chain looped over her neck that seemed to vanish into slits in the metal floor. If she struggled, the chain got tighter, but she hadn’t struggled in hours. She had nothing left, no trace of power or purpose. Struggling was for those with some iota of hope left. She had none.
The man crouched close to her, his elbows resting on his knees as he cocked his head to study her. He had raven-colored hair and sharp eyes, though his face was softer. There was an edge to his smile that warned her of what was beneath.
“What?” He asked, “Don’t you have anything to say? You’re awfully quiet for a fallen Queen.”
The jab stung, even though she should have known better than to actually listen to what he was saying. His purpose could not be good, that was all she needed to know – every word from his mouth was poison, she reminded herself.
Every single one.
She wanted to close her eyes, to see how close the reaper had come, but something about his rusty crimson irises was so familiar. She couldn’t help but feel as if she were missing something – some link in the chain. As if he was the bearer of an omen, and she’d forgotten what it meant.
His long fingers locked around her chin and he forced her to turn her head from one side to the other. Then he smiled and it was rotten and vile. He pointed to a small black circle mounted on the wall to her left, and said, “You’ll never guess who is watching.”
He had her attention, then.
She knew who it was. She could see the truth hiding behind his smug expression. They thought they were so clever, she fumed; they weren’t torturing her Guardian the way they were surely torturing the others.
There were only two men that they could use her against. She wondered if they were both watching; if that was meant to be the surprise, the trick in the question.
He laughed, watching understanding creep into her expression. He looked into the camera, then, his scarlet eyes hot with mockery, a slender knife appearing in his hand from beyond Atlas’ vision. He tucked the edge of it beneath the collar of her shirt with a sneer, making certain he looked into the lens as he tore the shirt down the center.
Riding the wave of his victory, an ocean of arrogance in his voice, he said, “Don’t worry, big man, I’ll take good care of your little princess.”
He turned to her, then, leaning dreadfully close; the edge of the knife pressing into her ribs, he said, “Won’t I, sweetheart?”
She fought the urge to squirm, redirecting her gaze to stare into the shifting camera lens. She said nothing, but she didn’t have to. If Elseron was watching, he would understand the command in her eyes.
Look away, it said, no matter what you hear.
She could not be certain he would follow the order, but it was there – sure as day, glowing behind her eyes. She was not afraid.
His first mistake had been to ignorantly believe she was as close to death as she looked. She was pale, and clammy; her entire body bruised and bloody, lined with dirt and sweat and scars. He’d gotten as far as removing the entirety of her shirt before he lost sight of his ultimate goal, temporarily.
He unclasped the binds around her wrists and drew the chain from the mechanisms. With one hand, he lifted her from the ground, her body limp against him. Only her head moved, her eyes seeking the camera no matter which way he turned her. He twisted the loose chain around her neck for insurance, and set her back on the steel floor.
She was reacquainting herself with her muscles, with her bones and her blood and her purpose. The more she returned to her body, the more difficult it became. She was wrapped tightly in a skin of agony; her bones felt like ceramic beneath the weight of her muscles.
She noticed one thing, however, that made all of the pain worth it. Atlas grinned slyly into the camera, her secret a dark shadow in her eyes.
She didn’t fight him as he yanked her to her feet and her head spun with the sudden movement. She stumbled and he caught her around the waist, using the opportunity to clench her against him, the hand holding the chain inching down her stomach. He twisted her until he could see the camera, and laughed, “Look at this, Guardian,” he cried, tugging her upright by her hair, “Your whore Queen doesn’t even fight.”
His fingers slid beneath the leggings she wore, and she took the opportunity. It was easier to fight in nothing more than a bra and shorts; she’d learned that during her lessons with Phaedos. The less she hand holding her down, the faster she was. She spun on her heel and slammed her elbow into his spinal column. He flew forward, his breath forcibly expelled from his lungs, but he yanked her back with the chain around her neck and she hit the ground with a sharp crack.
She’d had higher hopes for that plan, but she let it go and switched to her back-up plan. So she couldn’t make her escape, she told herself, but for once, they were late with the serum – this was likely to be the only chance she had to make use of their neglect.
He was over her, then, his grin wide and menacing, his fingers twisted around the chain links in his hand, choking off her air supply. All she could think about was the camera lens that followed their movements, of the eyes she knew to be watching beyond that. She fought, then, from her very core, and something cracked inside of her - adrenalin burst through her, fresh and scalding; it pushed back the pain and the fatigue and the emptiness. She was off the ground, on her feet and pushing against the full bulk of his body as he fought to pin her back down.
She had to get the fucking camera down, she thought, it was the only thing she could do. She was screaming, resisting the crimson eyed man with everything in her, her sweat-coated skin proving difficult for him to get a grip on; she pushed harder, against her body’s better judgment, her voice crackling with the first hints of something dangerous. “This doesn’t matter,” she roared at the camera, praying to the ancients that Elseron listened to her, that he understood.
It didn’t matter what happened to her. It didn’t matter.